Predicted Finish: 13th
Actual Finish: 6th
Best Performer: Tom Trbojevic
Manly had quite a few good performers this season, but nothing was even in the same world as what young Tommy Turbo produced. 11 tries, 17 try assist and a ridiculous 21 line breaks make for wonderful reading. Considering he is just 21 year’s of age, those numbers are insanity. He would have played Origin if not for injury, and was magnificent for the Kangaroos in the World Cup. Manly fans have a genuine future superstar of the game here in young Tommy T, especially is he continues to post stats like those previously mentioned.
Season Highlight: Round 4: 36-0 over the Bulldogs
The Sea Eagles managed a series of memorable wins in 2017 but none were more enjoyable for fans than the 36-0 thrashing of the Bulldogs in round four. The outside backs had a field day, with Kelly (2) Turbo, Walker and Uate all feasting on some horrible defence out wide. Sironen and Koroisau completed the tour, with Walker kicking four from seven. Occasionally there are supposed blowouts that are much closer contests than they’d seem if you just look at the scoreline. This was not one of those occasions. The Dogs were left chasing shadows from memory. In terms of a contest this game was awful, but in terms of attacking brilliance, Manly had the ball on a string. Wonderful to watch.
Best Signing: Lachlan Croker
Manly haven’t ventured into the player market in a big way for 2018. After losing Blake Green, they may have to, but given the continuous salary cap troubles, they look as though they’ll have to make do with what they have. In Lachlan Croker, the Sea Eagles have signed a former NYC captain who seemed to be the ‘next big thing’ in the capital for many years. It didn’t eventuate in lime green, but Croker has all the talents to be more than just a handy pick up. He has been signed as a depth signing, but having just been named in the emerging NSW squad, Brad Fittler obviously believes he has a big future. It’s not likely he’ll be in the running to partner DCE in the halves early on, but who knows? Having played just the one NRL game for Canberra, Croker is an unknown commodity to most fans, but this kid is very, very talented. Whether or not he lives up to his undoubted promise is up to him.
Return to finals: Manly missed the finals last year and many, myself included, couldn’t see them returning to the second week of September in 2017. They were able to prove us wrong by finishing comfortably inside the eight, and for a time there looked a serious top-four threat. It was important that the club bounced back after a horror 2016 season on and off the field. They did so, although the jury is still out as to the off-field performance of the club. Given their situation, having beaten Penrith quite convincingly just a week earlier, Manly will feel like they let a chance to venture deep into September slip. That said, 2017 always felt like a rebound year, and they managed to do just that.
Api proves gamble correct: Eyebrows were raised when Manly released Matt Parcell to play in England but the performances in 2017 by Apisai Koroisau proved Trent Barrett and co correct. The live wire Fijian number nine tackled his backside off, topping the Manly count with over 860. He also made eight line breaks and chimed in with three tries and six try assists. There are still slight concerns over his ability to play 80 minutes week-in, week-out but with another full pre-season under his belt it’s not beyond expectation that he can soon become that 80 minute hooker. Api is fast becoming one of the game’s most reliable number nines.
Uate and Kelly far surpassed expectations: I was originally going to dedicate this to Brian Kelly’s rookie year, but Uate had such a stellar return to the form that he deserves a mention here too. With Lyon and Matai retiring, there were two huge spaces to fill in the Manly back line. At only 21 year’s of age, Kelly had a wow of a season scoring seven tries and assisting five others. He was not overawed in his 23 first grade appearances. Uate, who really arrived as damaged goods, looked to return to almost his destructive best. 14 tries, 16 line breaks and 2500+ metres, are more the stats we are used to from the Fijian flyer. His World Cup was nothing short of incredible and should have him brimming with confidence come round one in 2018.
Season Grading: B
Manly shocked the majority of NRL fans by challenging for a top-four position well into the season. Most, again myself included, had many teams above them in the pecking order. Really, we should have known better, such is the reliance this club continues to show.
DCE and the Turbo brothers had absolute blinders, while the likes of Kelly, Uate and Walker all did their part out wide. Throw in Taupau who had a far improved season, and that’s a fair nucleus of talent to build on in 2018.
Blake Green turned out to be an astute signing, and unfortunately for Manly fans, his exit will be felt with no ready-made replacement. Curtis Sironen also exceeded expectations following his shift from the Tigers. Manly’s recruitment team really attracted value for money in 2017 and it worked out extremely well.
Ultimately the season ended in the first week of the finals, but with a month to play, and four very winnable games, Manly looked set for a top-four spot. That is a huge achievement for a side who really struggled in 2016 and a team who officially said goodbye to three legendary players in Stewart, Matai and Lyon.
When measuring results vs expectations it’s fair to say it was a good season for the maroon and whites.